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7 Jewish Women Writers Share Their Must-Read Books for Women's History Month

Wednesday, March 13, 2019| Permalink
In honor of Women's History Month, we asked seven Jewish women writers with books of their own coming out this spring to each recommend two favorite titles. The picks are wide-ranging, from classic short story collections and recent novels, to soul-searching autobiographies and provocative graphic memoirs. Taken together, the books make a great introduction to contemporary Jewish women's writing. Keep reading for selections from Julie Orringer, Mandy Berman, and more. 

Leah Cohen, author of Strangers and Cousins (May 14)


After Abel and Oth­er Sto­ries by Michal Lemberger

It could so eas­i­ly have felt like a gim­mick: retell Bible sto­ries from the point of view of their bare­ly-men­tioned female char­ac­ters. But as Lem­berg­er inhab­its these women — from the well-known to those so obscure they remain unnamed — each comes vivid­ly alive. Their voic­es ring true. More than that, their voic­es ring out. In prose that is unsen­ti­men­tal, direct, and deeply mov­ing, Lem­berg­er grants these char­ac­ters their ful­ly com­plex human­i­ty, ren­der­ing their sto­ries new­ly intrigu­ing and relevant.

Bewil­der­ments: Reflec­tions on the Book of Num­bers by Avi­vah Got­tlieb Zornberg 

The live­li­ness of Torah radi­ates from this explo­ration of the book we know so bor­ing­ly in Eng­lish as Num­bers. In Hebrew it’s Bamid­bar, or ​“In the Wilder­ness,” which is pre­cise­ly where the author fear­less­ly plunges us: into kalei­do­scop­ic wilds of inter­pre­ta­tion. A Torah schol­ar, Zorn­berg is as com­fort­able read­ing through the prisms of art, psy­cho­analy­sis, poet­ry, and phi­los­o­phy as she is cit­ing the ancient sages. Learned with­out being pedan­tic, wise with­out sac­ri­fic­ing play­ful­ness, she is a qui­et­ly thrilling guide.

Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (April 2)

Inher­i­tance by Dani Shapiro  

This is a sur­pris­ing book because even though the osten­si­ble mys­tery at the heart of Dani’s sto­ry — who her bio­log­i­cal father real­ly is—is solved at the begin­ning of the mem­oir, the book reads like a sus­pense­ful exis­ten­tial thriller as she unrav­els the big ques­tions of iden­ti­ty that are both spe­cif­ic to her and uni­ver­sal to the human con­di­tion. How much of our essence is deter­mined by genet­ics? By envi­ron­ment? By who loved us or didn’t love us the way we want­ed to be loved? How do even the best-kept secrets seep into our lives any­way? And how do we make sense of our her­itage when it wasn’t all that it seemed?

Ein­stein and the Rab­bi by Nao­mi Levy

While this is a fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry about a let­ter that Ein­stein sent to com­fort a rab­bi, it’s also Rab­bi Nao­mi Levy’s sto­ry, which is no less riv­et­ing. It’s hard to cat­e­go­rize this book—it’s not self-help but does offer use­ful guid­ance; it’s not pure mem­oir, though Levy delights us with expe­ri­ences from her own life, rang­ing from hilar­i­ous to poignant; and while Jew­ish texts are explored, the wis­dom applies to peo­ple of any faith. The result is both sooth­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing, ask­ing us to ask our­selves to take a clos­er look at our souls, because we might just be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by what we find.

Jennifer Acker, author of The Limits of the World (April 16)

The UnAmer­i­cans by Mol­ly Antopol

An imme­di­ate sen­sa­tion when it was released five years ago, Antopol’s debut col­lec­tion of sto­ries of love, ambi­tion, and politi­cized world­views bur­rows deep inside Jew­ish fam­i­lies—large­ly dis­si­dents, artists, and intel­lec­tu­als—from Los Ange­les to Prague to Jerusalem over the course of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Each tale is both swift and thought­ful, and the end­ings are a mar­vel — sat­is­fy­ing read­ers’ nar­ra­tive crav­ings while mak­ing us hunger for the next savory and metic­u­lous­ly con­coct­ed course.

When We Argued All Night by Alice Mattison 

Dis­agree­ments are a sta­ple of good fic­tion, but Alice Mat­ti­son rais­es them to high art. This vibrant and event­ful nov­el chart­ing the inter­con­nect­ed polit­i­cal and famil­ial lives of two Jew­ish New York­ers, Harold and Artie, opens in 1936 and car­ries us rip-roar­ing through the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Come for the friend­ship, stay for the argu­ments; laugh, cry, and learn along the way.

Mandy Berman, author of The Learning Curve (May 28)

How Should a Per­son Be? by Sheila Heti

Heti is the daugh­ter of Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish immi­grants, and her fic­tion­al­ized mem­oir grap­ples, among oth­er things, with the strug­gles of her ances­tors. As Heti her­self said in a New York Times inter­view, ​“The char­ac­ters in my book are wan­der­ing; they’re aim­ing for the Promised Land, but, like the Jews of the Bible, are fat­ed not to enter it.” The auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal narrator’s Jew­ish­ness is inte­gral to the nov­el, as is the ques­tion­ing she does of her her­itage and of herself.

My Year of Rest and Relax­ation by Otes­sa Moshfegh 

Reva, the Jew­ish best friend of this novel’s self-involved nar­ra­tor, is every­thing the nar­ra­tor is not: gen­er­ous, loy­al, and deeply feel­ing. Reva is also plagued with an eat­ing dis­or­der and a dying moth­er, and my heart broke for her more than it has for a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter in a long time. She’s the emo­tion­al core of this nov­el, an empath serv­ing as a con­trast to its often unfeel­ing antihero.

Rachel Barenbaum, author of A Bend in the Stars (May 14)

If All The Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan 

In this pas­sion­ate mem­oir the über-brave Kur­shan opens her heart and takes us through her sear­ing, per­son­al jour­ney. From a dev­as­tat­ing divorce and the lone­li­ness of liv­ing in Israel as a new­ly sin­gle olah chadashah (immi­grant), through the painstak­ing steps of build­ing her­self back up, Kur­shan leans on the pow­er of books, humor, and daf yomi (dai­ly page of Tal­mud), and blazes a trail — reveal­ing that heart­break can lead to even greater love and that romance is not dead.

The Mar­riage of Oppo­sites by Alice Hoffman

This lumi­nous, for­bid­den love sto­ry set in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty that strad­dled St. Thomas and Paris in the 1800s fol­lows the extra­or­di­nary life of Rachel, the moth­er of the painter Camille Pis­sar­ro, as she’s forced into a love­less mar­riage and then jumps into a defi­ant, pas­sion­ate affair. The mag­ic of island life bleeds into every line of this aston­ish­ing novel.

Julie Orringer, author of The Flight Portfolio (May 7)

Image result for feast your eyes myla goldberg 

Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

The amazing Myla Goldberg returns with a finely wrought novel in the form of notes from a photography exhibition catalogue—written not by a dispassionate critic, but by the photographer’s daughter. Lillian Preston, the photographer, earned notoriety for her nude photos of her child; in an assemblage of letters, journal excerpts, and descriptions of the work itself, her daughter blows aside the clouds of public opprobrium to reveal a brilliant and complicated artist—and a loving, if imperfect, mother.

Image result for the collected stories grace paley

The Collected Stories by Grace Paley

Rarely do we find more truth in fiction than in Grace Paley’s stories, where life in New York meets motherhood, artisthood, hoods, progressive politics, existential philosophy, and self-aware second-wave feminism. In drawing from her home idiom—a Russian- and Yiddish-tinged English—as well as from the New York English of the street—she creates a language, a dialogue, that feels like its own new music, yet is as familiar and true as our own grandmothers’ voices. Her cast of characters quickly becomes beloved family, and her stories are our stories, now and forever.

Sarah Lightman, author of The Book of Sarah (May 23)

Toward a Hot Jew: Graphic Essays by Miriam Libicki

These extra­or­di­nary graph­ic essays explore Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, Zion­ism, Israeli pol­i­tics, angst, ambiva­lence, and attach­ment through the most exquis­ite and apt pen­cil work, bright inks, and rich blur­ring wash­es of water­col­or. Libicki’s engage­ment with the per­son­al and the polit­i­cal is as rich, dynam­ic and lay­ered as her mate­ri­als: from the Israeli sol­dier that her younger self lust­ed over who is now an ​“adorable oppres­sor,” to the anx­ious in-law in Cana­da who she dis­obeys (“Promise me you won’t go to Haifa”), to the dig­i­tal peti­tion she signs against the depor­ta­tion of African refugees from Israel while at home with her Cana­di­an baby.

Glitz-2-Go: Collected Comics by Diane Noomin

Comics pio­neer Diane Noomin, in the intro­duc­tion to this remark­able col­lec­tion, tries to char­ac­ter­ize her rela­tion­ship with DiDi Glitz — her ​“id or alter ego,” or ​“non-per­son­al per­sona.” DiDi is amorous, bouf­fant, busty, fab­u­lous, and fat­ed as she shares her wis­dom and life expe­ri­ences. But per­haps DiDi is best under­stood in ​“I was a Red Dia­per Baby,” in which Noomin uses pho­tos and post­cards to uncov­er what was hid­den in her own child­hood in Hemp­stead, Long Island: her parent’s secret lives in the Com­mu­nist under­ground, revealed by the mimeo­graph hid­den in the attic.

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